Brugge Beyond the Grote Markt
Sure you can stay in the city center in and around the Grote Markt area, eat overpriced food, buy cheap trinkets from souvenir shops, and window shop for genitalia-shaped chocolates (yes, you can do that), but there’s so much more to Brugge. My first impressions of Brugge were less than stellar, and I almost ended up leaving the following morning, but after a good night’s sleep, I decided to give Brugge a second chance.
On my only full day in Brugge, I caught a bus into the center of town, but this time I didn’t head for the central market square. Trying to avoid the crowds, I stayed well away from the Grote Markt and started my day in a place where I knew I’d have no trouble relaxing and starting off my Brugge back door tour on the right foot: Minnewater Park.
The serene park, situated at the south of the city center, is a welcome oasis from the madness of the crowds. The park itself isn’t large but if you’re looking for a bit of peace and quiet while in Brugge, you’ll definitely find it here.
After spending roughly an hour wandering about the park, I headed to the Gruuthuse Museum. Formerly the mansion of a wealthy and important family in Brugge, the Gruuthuse now houses luxurious tapestries, household goods, and carved reliquary (among other things) from Belgian and Brugge history dating as far back as the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries. The hanging tapestries fascinated me the most. Although the colors of the fibers have faded with age and exposure to the elements, the sheer size of each woven piece and the intricacy of the detail work necessary to recreate scenes from history and mythology was awe-inspiring.
There’s a tiny prayer room on the second floor of the museum that grants views directly down and inside the neighboring Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk, the beautiful medieval church that’s one of Brugge’s top tourist draws. You can get a glimpse inside the church without having to compete with other tourists and tour groups.
Leaving the Gruuthuse I gave the Grote Markt a wide berth, eventually finding myself at Pas Partout, an authentic Belgian restaurant on Jerusalemstraat in the heart of residential Brugge just in time for lunch.
Pas Partout is regarded as a bit of a “social experiment” in Brugge. A former 3-star, Michelin-rated restaurant that used to be pretty darned pricey, you can now eat there for a mere song. I had a sumptuous lunch of stoemp (a pureed potato dish) with pork in a reddish gravy and a glass of tafelbier, which was full-bodied and delicious. The total meal cost me €9,50 which was much more reasonable than many of the restaurants closer to the Grote Markt. Yes, Pas Partout is a bit out of the way, but definitely worth it.
After spending a good chunk of time in the Kantcentrum or Lace Museum, I just wandered aimlessly through the neighborhoods at the outer edges of the city. It was so relaxing to walk about with no specific destination in mind, observing people riding past me on their bicycles, marveling at the charm of the old houses, and just having a great time on my own away from the crowds.
By the time the sun had begun to set, I was exhausted from walking all over Brugge. I took a break at The Old Chocolate House where I got to sample my first (as of yet unconfirmed) “real” Belgian waffle and make my own hot chocolate with hot milk and bits of milk and dark chocolate. Sipping homemade hot chocolate from a mug as big as my face while nibbling a sweet, buttery waffle was a delightful, delicious end to my day wandering the back streets of Brugge.
While I can’t honestly say that Brugge was my favorite city in Belgium (it wasn’t), I gained a new appreciation for its charm, its history and its connections to the past. Would I go back again? Maybe. I do know that if I’d simply limited my experience to the area around the central market square, I can guarantee that trip to Brugge would have been my first and my last.
So what’s the takeaway? First impressions are great, but sometimes you just have to let a place grow on you.
Agree? Disagree? Have you had a travel experience that didn’t start out so well but improved after you gave it a chance?